ISTANBUL — Turkey's foreign minister urged delegates from more than 30 countries on Friday to increase the pressure on Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi and find "innovative ways" to support the Libyan opposition.
Ahmet Davutoglu, opening the fourth meeting of the Contact Group on Libya, also suggested the group open lines of credit to meet the Libyan rebels' "urgent need for cash" before the holy Muslim month of Ramadan, which starts next month. Turkey has already started a $200 million credit line, he said.
The Libyan opposition has repeatedly demanded money from frozen Libyan assets in foreign countries.
"We should keep up the pressure on the regime in Tripoli ... while looking for innovative ways to support the Transitional National Council," Davutoglu said.
Hundreds of millions of dollars have been pledged to special financial mechanism, but tens of millions in frozen Gadhafi regime assets in the United States and elsewhere are still inaccessible to rebels because of the lack of recognition and U.N. sanctions.
The U.S. and a growing number of countries consider the council the legitimate interlocutor for the Libyan people but do not formally recognize it as Libya's government. The council has been seeking formal recognition from the United States and others for months.
Davutoglu said it was the legitimate representative of Libya.
"I would like to encourage all our partners in the Contact Group to consider opening credit lines to the NTC amounting to a certain percentage of the Libyan frozen assets in their country," Davutoglu said. Repayment of Turkey's credit line is guaranteed through Libyan frozen assets in Turkey, he said.
Davutoglu also stressed the need to increase humanitarian aid as the holy Muslim month of Ramadan approached, warning that ongoing U.N. sanctions are causing suffering among people living under Gadhafi's control. Turkey "sees merit" in the council's suggestion that $3 billion of Libya's frozen assets under U.N. supervision be released with the promise that it will only be used for humanitarian help, Davutoglu said.
Senior U.S. officials have said the Obama administration is preparing to strengthen ties with the council once it presents detailed plans for a democratic government and as it becomes increasingly clear it will govern a post-Gadhafi Libya.
There are concerns, however, about whether the initial government would represent the full spectrum of Libyan society, and Human Right Watch called on the Contact Group on Libya to press the opposition to ensure that civilians are protected in areas where rebels have assumed control.
The right groups said Friday it has documented abuses in four towns — Awaniya, Rayayinah, Zawiyat al-Bagul, and Qawalish — recently captured by rebels in the western mountains, including looting, arson, and beatings of some civilians who remained when government forces withdrew.
"Rebel abuses may pale in comparison with the atrocities by Libyan government forces, but they require immediate attention," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "Governments supporting the NATO campaign should push the opposition to protect civilians in areas where rebels have control, especially where some people may support the government."
Turkey, which is co-chairing Friday's meeting together with the United Arab Emirates, has proposed a "road map" to help transition to a new government, calling for an immediate cease-fire and providing water, food and fuel to strife-torn cities. It wants NATO to stop targeting ground forces to prevent civilian casualties, HaberTurk television said Friday.
Davutoglu told reporters on Thursday night that Gadhafi could remain in Libya if an agreement is reached, the Turkish Daily News reported on Friday. Gadhafi has refused to step down although French officials have said Libyan emissaries are seeking sanctuary for the leader.
The participants, including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, are expected to look at how they can collectively help the Council to govern and set up elections.
Rebel forces are trying to close in on the Libyan capital to overthrow Gadhafi. But his forces reportedly repelled a coordinated attack by NATO forces and rebels against a strategic oil town, Brega, in the east of the country on Thursday.
NATO is enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya and hitting government targets as part of a U.N. mandate to protect civilians. It is not, however, supposed to be the military arm of rebel ground forces.
Ahead of the meeting in Istanbul, a defiant spokesman for the Libyan government said they were ready to die in defense of the country's oil against attacks by the rebels and NATO forces.
We will kill, we will die for oil," Moussa Ibrahim said. "Rebels, NATO, we don't care. We will defend our oil to the last drop of blood and we are going to use everything."
Hacaoglu reported from Ankara. Paul Schemm in Tripoli also contributed to this story.